How To Broaden Your View Of Innovation Opportunities

March 17, 2017


U.S. executives are committed to innovation as a driver of future success. In a 2015 survey by Accenture, 84% of respondents said that innovation was very important or extremely important to the long-term success of their organization’s strategy. In 2012, that portion was 67%.

As the need for innovation intensifies, companies can get a much broader view of the opportunities available—and the competitive threats—by changing the way they look at customer behavior. That’s the advice from Stephen Wunker, managing director of New Markets Advisors and co-author of Jobs to Be Done: A Roadmap for Customer-Centered Innovation (AMACOM, 2016).

In a podcast on AMA’s Edgewise series, Wunker suggested that organizations must shift their focus from asking “what people want” to asking why they want those things and what is triggering their demand. With a broader view, a company can uncover the underlying “job to be done”—that is, what the customer is really trying to accomplish when he considers the available options.

This shift in focus will lead not only to sustaining innovations, but also to the critical innovations that create a company’s future growth. “You get a much more expansive view of both what the opportunity and the threat is,” Wunker said. “That’s how you get the really big innovations to happen.”

The landscape of innovation

When you focus on jobs to be done, Wunker said, you may discover a more complex definition of your industry and a larger landscape of innovation opportunities than many companies recognize.

He offered the example of automobiles. A typical automaker might use a needs analysis to identify product-related features that customers want. It then executes well on those needs.

But when BMW developed its Mini for the small-car market, it took a different approach. The company looked at what people were trying to get done in their lives that might involve transportation, Wunker said. BMW discovered that many people were concerned with self-expression—a job to be done—and created the Mini in response. “They nailed a differentiated piece of metal real estate that they can hold on to. Anybody else who tries to do that is just a knockoff,” he said.

Wunker believes that this viewpoint is beneficial for new managers and those looking to advance their careers. When you are able to step back and understand people’s underlying motivations, he said, ”you create an insight about what makes people tick that as a leader is really important.”

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American Management Association is a world leader in professional development, advancing the skills of individuals to drive business success. AMA’s approach to improving performance combines experiential learning—“learning through doing”—with opportunities for ongoing professional growth at every step of one’s career journey. AMA supports the goals of individuals and organizations through a complete range of products and services, including seminars, Webcasts and podcasts, conferences, corporate and government solutions, business books and research.


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